Elevator Pitch: Camille Cosare, Founder of Women's Health Startup FemeNova
January 22, 2024
It took the COVID-19 pandemic to force the world to seriously contend with the realities of healthcare and the invisible labor of care work, from the gaps and weaknesses of healthcare systems to the struggles of overburdened health workers.
But while many only saw and heard about these realities when pandemic news broke out, Camille Cosare was among those who have lived them ever since she became a nurse.
A child of Cebu City, Camille became a nurse due to her curiosity and passion for the medical field. It was her time working in hospitals and in corporate healthcare that enabled her to fully understand what the vocation truly meant, as well as witness firsthand the gaps that existed in women's healthcare and education that Filipinas struggled with.
All of these compelled Camille to found FemeNova Health, an early-stage startup focused on women's health and menstrual health, with the goal to support, educate, and offer expert solutions to women based on their diverse needs.
As many Filipinas continue to struggle with the taboo surrounding women's health and health services remain inaccessible to many, still, FemeNova Health is here to rise to the challenge.
The Beat Asia had the chance to speak with Camille to know more about her journey from being a nurse to a startup founder, the lessons she's learned along the way in getting FemeNova Health off the ground, and her hopes for women's health and fellow Filipinas who also dream of founding their own startups.
Hello, Camille! First off, please share with us a brief background about yourself.
Hello, everyone. I'm Camille Cosare, a Filipina nurse from Cebu City who advocates for reproductive health. We are establishing FemeNova Health, a healthcare startup dedicated to advancing reproductive health education and services for women in our country.
In this role, I lead our team in developing a comprehensive platform that addresses critical gaps in women's health. FemeNova Health aims to empower women in navigating their reproductive health journey. My clinical experience and entrepreneurial spirit propel me to advocate for comprehensive healthcare solutions for women.
Why did you become a nurse, and what about being a nurse do you think is the most meaningful?
I studied nursing because of my inclination and curiosity in medical topics. This enabled me to help others [with] their healthcare experience[s]. As a nurse, you will witness a lot of vulnerable moments in a person's life — from birth and illness to death. These are precious moments you share with individuals, families, and significant others, and you can touch lives by being there for them in these times.
Before embarking on your startup journey, what was your experience like being a nurse in Cebu?
I have worked in hospitals and corporate settings, engaging in clinical processes within the U.S. healthcare system. Being on the frontline of healthcare, you encounter a multitude of stories and have the opportunity to make a meaningful impact through your profession. My experiences as a nurse have inspired me to launch FemeNova Health, with the mission of improving women's access to reproductive healthcare and supporting them on their reproductive health journey.
As a nurse, what were the crucial gaps you witnessed in women's health in the Philippines?
There remains a significant gap in addressing women's health in our country, particularly concerning issues like teenage pregnancies, hormone disorders, and sexually transmitted infections, among others. Women's health can still be a taboo topic here in the Philippines. Due to cultural conservatism, there's a tendency to dismiss our feelings and symptoms, allowing health issues to go unaddressed. It is crucial to break these barriers, educate women on these issues, and encourage them to be proactive in their health journey.
As the founder of FemeNova Health, what is your vision for your startup?
At FemeNova Health, our vision is to create a safe space for women to engage in open conversations about their sexual and reproductive health and to provide them with the necessary services. We aim to empower women to be active participants in their healthcare journey and to bridge the gap in discussing sexual and reproductive health issues.
Without revealing too much, can you share with us some of the features, services, and/or content we can look forward to on the FemeNova Health platform?
We are developing an application for Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) specifically designed for young women. This platform enables women to conveniently and privately ask questions about their reproductive health and access essential health services. The app will include a confidential space for users to connect with certified healthcare professionals, providing personalized advice. Our goal is to ensure that women have access to reliable information and support right at their fingertips.
Why the focus on women's health and menstrual health specifically?
Menstruation serves as a valuable indicator of women's health and overall well-being. We firmly believe in the necessity of early education, particularly starting with menstrual health education for young girls. As a young woman, I personally experienced a lack of proper education on menstrual health, and upon researching community perspectives on family planning, it became evident that substantial gaps persist in knowledge about women's health.
Recognizing this need for education and understanding, our startup is committed to improving access to services and enhancing the availability and accessibility of women-friendly reproductive health services. This includes comprehensive counseling, contraception options, and STI testing, with the ultimate goal of achieving a higher utilization rate among Filipinas.
By promoting effective contraceptive use and providing support and guidance, our startup seeks to contribute to the reduction of unintended teenage pregnancies and associated health risks for both young women and their children. Through these initiatives, we aim to empower women with the knowledge and resources they need to make informed decisions about their reproductive health, fostering a healthier and more informed community.
What was the driving force behind establishing FemeNova Health? What inspired you to pursue this path?
My journey began while working virtually for U.S. healthcare companies, where I witnessed firsthand how they orchestrated the healthcare experience to serve their citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic. Seeing their initiatives to facilitate healthcare access left a lasting impact and fueled my advocacy to contribute to the improvement of women's healthcare.
This passion ultimately led to the creation of FemeNova Health. Our mission is to enhance young women's knowledge and understanding of reproductive health, empowering them to make informed decisions regarding their sexual and reproductive choices. Through our initiatives, we aim to play a pivotal role in positively shaping the healthcare landscape for women and fostering a community where individuals are equipped to make choices that align with their well-being.
FemeNova is the only Philippine startup among the Top 3 finalists in the Unicharm challenge for the ASEAN-Japan Fast Track pitch in Thailand. May you share with us what this experience was like for you?
Pitching our solution in a foreign country, especially in the context of the ASEAN-Japan pitch event, can indeed be overwhelming. Introducing our solution to individuals deeply immersed in technologies, business, and government roles adds a layer of complexity. However, our journey has been immensely insightful.
During our time brainstorming and learning about the market in Thailand and its reproductive health landscape, we discovered the unique challenges and nuances. It was fascinating to observe how reproductive healthcare issues can bear similarities across different countries. We are excited about the prospect of making a positive impact not only locally but also contributing to addressing reproductive health challenges on a broader scale in the ASEAN region.
What has your journey been like so far, beginning with just an idea to trying to garner the right support to turn your startup into a reality?
Despite encountering numerous setbacks, the experience has ultimately shaped us into better founders. We've navigated through challenges, making strategic changes based on insights from stakeholders and active engagement with our target audience. Each setback became a stepping stone, contributing to the continuous evolution and improvement of our solution.
What would you say are the challenges or struggles you've experienced in putting up FemeNova Health? How did you overcome these roadblocks?
In the early stages of our startup, our primary challenges revolved around identifying how to effectively reach our target users and recognizing our unique opportunities. It's not merely about having an idea; being well-informed about the market, understanding the current challenges, and recognizing gaps in care are essential. That’s also the advantage of being a startup: being agile and you iterate [over] a lot of things to find where we can contribute most effectively to the well-being of women in our communities.
What has been the support like so far for FemeNova Health?
We are grateful for the support we've received from women and allies who empathize with the pain points we are addressing in the women's healthcare space. These individuals believe in our mission and have provided us with invaluable feedback. We also received support from a startup incubator, UP Cebu InIT, and programs that help us in developing our product.
What learnings have you had these past couple of months as a startup founder?
We learned from these past couple of months that we need to engage with stakeholders who can help us reach women and find partnership opportunities to cater to reproductive health needs. When you rally behind something that has a social impact, you need to open up conversations and lead others in creating changes in our communities.
In this endeavor of women's health education and empowerment, we can't do this alone and it's important to find belonging with communities to share our stories, and express who we are, and what we represent.
How do you think FemeNova Health would set itself apart in our local startup scene?
Our commitment is to provide a seamless experience for women to navigate their reproductive healthcare journey with confidence and autonomy. We will give women secure and comprehensive support [for] their reproductive health needs through our platform.
We believe that we should empower women to advocate for their healthcare. We also want to contribute to shaping the collective understanding of the support that women need and how women's health affects population health and ultimately economic development in the country.
Based on your experience as a new founder, what have you observed about the startups we currently have locally? What would you say are the Philippine startup industry's strengths, promises, and areas of improvement?
There are a lot of opportunities for startups here in the Philippines with various and some nuanced problems we encounter in the country. I see promise in creating innovations in the service industry. Filipinos are known to be service-oriented, and we can leverage that strength by integrating innovative solutions to support our workforce and entrepreneurs may it be in tech or healthcare.
Areas of improvement would be creating environments that would support startups, especially in the early stages. Entrepreneurship programs and open innovation hubs can increase the participation and interest in startups [of] both students and those who have the entrepreneurial spirit.
What are your hopes for FemeNova Health in the next six months? How about this 2024?
In the next six months, we are building partnerships to work on the reproductive health services and learning modules for women and the youth. Conduct training programs for healthcare providers, educators, and community leaders to enhance their knowledge and skills in delivering women/ adolescent’s reproductive health services. In , we will collaborate with local stakeholders to foster community support and engagement, reducing the stigma surrounding women’s reproductive health and creating a supportive environment for young people.
Lastly, what advice would you give fellow Filipinas who also want to establish their own startup, whether in women's health or a different area?
At first, you really have to advocate and do everything yourself but as you go along you will find people that will align with your values and mission. We must seek support because other people already have what we need, and others are willing to help. Whether you are delving into tech solutions, brand building, or selling products, Filipinas are full of ingenuity and take pride in our work, and I believe that we can create a lot of great products and services by putting ourselves out there and taking the first step in building our vision to reality.
Enjoyed this article? Check out our previous Elevator Pitch profiles here.
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